Many of Ellen Kempner’s songs are about putting up with other people’s bullshit, yet it took her five years and three LPs to officially title one of Palehound’s compositions just that. “Bullshit,” along with the eleven tracks that precede and succeed it on the band’s third and latest album, Black Friday, wrestles with the complex matter of human perception—in this case, Kempner laments her inability to express herself earnestly to someone who would clearly value the honesty. Instead, she fears, everything she says comes across as BS.
Kempner’s tired vocals on the track fit right in with its encompassing discography. But countering the apathetic slacker-rock energy burgeoning in her hometown of Boston over the past decade, Palehound has always felt like the byproduct of too much emotional energy invested in relationships. Case in point, on Black Friday Kempner goes so far as to consider branding herself with a shitty tattoo every time she sees a certain someone’s car on the street on “Stick N Poke,” while the vengeful “Killer” is a self-proclaimed murder fantasy Kempner wrote about her friends’ abusers.
It’s no surprise, then, that the songwriters who influenced Kempner’s writing on Black Friday tend to cover such obsessively introspective lyrical territory—Sidney Gish, Frank Ocean, Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, and a particularly heartbroken Beck. In addition to some interesting production and guitar influences, you can hear many of the poetic ingredients that went into the new album below.
Black Friday is out June 7 on Polyvinyl. You can pre-order it here.
Tierra Whack, “Hungry Hippo”
I got super into Tierra Whack’s album Whack World in the months leading up to recording Black Friday. By that point all of the songs had been written already, but Whack World inspired a lot of production choices I made. The most significant effect she had on me was teaching me that keeping things short and sweet is almost always the best option, and to never extend a song for the sake of making it longer.
Big Thief, “Haley”
This band was the biggest inspiration for Black Friday. Adrianne Lenker’s ability to emulate joy in her guitar parts while simultaneously expressing anguish in her lyrics is magic and something I worked to do in my own songs.
Prince, “I Would Die 4 U”
I listened to a lot of Prince while writing this album and allowed myself the space to riff and push myself as a guitarist because of him. His music taught me that there were some moments where I could let myself cry through the guitar as opposed to my voice.
Baby Huey & the Baby Sitters, “Hard Times”
This song is amazing and was my favorite find of 2018! Throughout the song there’s this really groovy and sinister flute that I tried to replicate on “Killer” with dramatic, repetitive piano octaves.
Luis Bacalov, “The Grand Duel (Parte Prima)”
This piece set the tone for a couple of songs on Black Friday for which I was unsure how to capture darkness without being depressing. It also taught me to leave space and not clutter a song too much.
Frank Ocean, “Solo”
Frank Ocean will always be one of my biggest lyrical inspirations. His ability to capture small moments and transform them into poignant stories is what I aspire to be able to do someday. This song is what lead to me writing “Sneakers”.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Lucky Man”
This is the only Emerson, Lake & Palmer song I know, but I love it dearly and I wrote the song “Black Friday” after a week of listening to it on repeat. The lush, thick backing vocals were exciting and something I’d never attempted before on my own music until then.
Beck, “Lonesome Tears”
All of Beck’s Sea Change was a reference for the production of my album—it’s also the album we tried to match to while mastering. The song “Bullshit” took a lot of cues from this particular song, especially regarding the use of strings.
(Sandy) Alex G, “Proud”
Alex G is one of my favorite songwriters in how casual and emotional his music is, while also being simple and weird. “Worthy” was inspired by this song as a straightforward acoustic guitar rock song.
Sidney Gish, “I Eat Salads Now”
Sidney Gish is so cool! She makes really fun music and inspired “Urban Drip” with her honesty and bluntness.
Ava Luna, “Steve Polyester”
I’ve been obsessed with Ava Luna since high school—they are my favorite live band. This track is a spoken-word track and is what led to me asking Melisa Lozada-Oliva to write and perform a poem on the album